Lee Pitts
Los Osos, Calif.

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April 14, 2014
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Lee Pitts: It’s the Pitts 4-14-14

A cowboy friend of mine went into an antique store the other day and the owner tried to buy the hat right off his head because they “fly off the shelf” when offered for sale. But it’s mandatory that the hats have to look used. A well known hat maker is also selling “pre-worn” cowboy hats.

Ever since John Stetson started turning beavers into hats people have been wearing cowboy hats to convey the rough, tough image of a cowboy. That’s why we have radio DJ’s, politicians and designers wearing cowboy hats; hence the saying, “all hat, no cattle!” But a real cowboy is not measured by the plumage or X’s in his or her hat, but by the sweat and dirt that have accumulated around the hat band over a life’s worth of work. You know what I’m talking about. If you don’t see a nearly black band around the base of a work hat you are probably dealing with a banker, lawyer, cosmetologist or country/western singer from New Jersey.

The problem for dudes is you have to work very hard to build up the sweat and dust into just the right mixture that marks you as a real cowboy. Acquiring just the right patina can take years and you can’t fake it, color it on with a Magic Marker®, or cover it up with pheasant feathers, a dead rattlesnake, or extra wide hat band.

Our hats are our war bonnets and our crowns, and the degree to which the sweat band is dark and dirty determines the hierarchy at the auction market cafe. You see a sweat band that’s the color of old saddle leather and it automatically commands our respect. You never throw a good old hat like that away, but retire it instead to your very own Hat Hall of Fame. It’s very important to save hats like that for posterity. My grandpa was a hard worker but I have several of his old Stetsons and I am ashamed to admit that judging by the appearance of just those hats you might think he didn’t exert himself all that much. You certainly don’t want the same thing said about you, do you?

I wouldn’t expect women to understand because it’s a manly thing, but believe me, when you ask your husband to wear his new hat instead of his work hat to church, or out to eat at a nice restaurant, it’s like you are asking him to leave his masculinity at home. The best comparison I can think of is when women try to wear the highest heels, put the most rings on their fingers or grow their painted toenails the longest.

Now do you understand?

Still no? OK, look at it this way. I’m sure you understand the principle of the alpha dog and how each one tries to make water higher up on a post to show their dominance. Haven’t we all seen a Dachshund contort itself trying to “outman” a German Shepherd? Well, it works the same way with hats, only we size each other up by looking at the well-worness of their lid. This also explains why we rarely take our hats off, because we feel naked without them. It’s who we are. It’s our identity.

Some girly-men take the easy way out by always wearing a straw hat because a good sweat line is much easier to build up in a cheap straw hat than it is a good felt hat with a thick inner hat band. But real cowboys know a phony when they see one.

By the way, the same rules apply when we switch to wearing a ball cap for more formal situations. Look at any freebie cap and you’ll see from three to eight stitch lines around the bill. I have seen guys actually count the number of stitch lines they got their sweat line to. I would never do that, and I hate to brag, but in high school when I sheared sheep I got my sweat line all the way out to the rim of the cap! I really must say, it was the high water mark of my workaholic life.

I get misty-eyed when I think what a hat like that might be worth on today’s market to some sissy gynecologist who wants to display his manhood when he goes on a week-long trail ride with his urbane buddies who, like him, are too lazy to collect their own dirty sweat. ❖


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